Literary Characters on Trial: Combining Persuasion and Literary Analysis
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After reading a work of literature as a class, students will brainstorm "crimes" committed by characters from that text. Groups of students will work together to act as the prosecution or defense for the selected characters, while also acting as the jury for other groups. Students will use several sources to research for their case, including the novel and internet resources. All the while, students will be writing a persuasive piece to complement their trial work.
While this lesson uses Shakespeare's The Tempest, there are several other text options. Handouts (except for the model case handout) are generic so that they can be used with any text.
Roles of the Members of a Trial: This handout briefly explains all the roles played by students in a mock trial.
Exploring the Judicial System Through a Literary Mock Trial: This online tool asks students to visit several Websites and answer questions in order to learn about the U.S. judicial system.
From Theory to Practice
Dramatic activities, such as imagining a trial for certain characters, encourage students to "reflect on the experience and meaning" of the reading. Students work together to create their own meanings, an essential characteristic of constructivism. Through drama, students create a new world in which the characters, themes, and motivations of the novel combine with and affect students' understanding of the world in which they live. Most important, students are empowered to see how the themes of literature relate to their own lives.
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
- 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
- 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
- 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
- 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
- 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
Materials and Technology
- The Tempest or another text
- Chart paper/White Board, and necessary writing materials
- Roles of the Members of a Trial
- Your Duties to Your Client as a Prosecution Attorney...
- Your Duties to Your Client as a Defense Attorney...
- Suggestions for a Mock Trial
- Trial Paper Rubric
- Trial Presentation Rubric
- Cast Outline
- And the Verdict Is...
- Agenda for a Literary Mock Trial
- Presentation Self-Evaluation Form
- Students should have read and discussed the text, The Tempest or another text, chosen for the mock trial before beginning this project.
- The instructor should be comfortable with all of the components of a mock trial. The instructor could use the Guide to Conducting Mock Trials for further information.
- Make copies of the Roles of the Members of a Trial, Duties of the Prosecution Attorney, Duties of the Defense Attorney, suggestions for the lawyers, Writing Rubric, Trial Rubric, Model Defense handout, Jury Verdict Form, Agenda for a Mock Trial, and Self-Evaluation Form.
- As students will be using their persuasion skills, provide background information in methods and forms of persuasion. Review ReadWriteThink lessons about persuasion.
- If desired, share a movie or TV show that portrays a trial scene and decide what strategies could be useful with instruction.
- Test the Persuasion Map on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tools and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.
- Test the Exploring the Judicial System Through a Literary Mock Trial travelogue on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tools and ensure that the sites are not blocked by any filtering software.
- demonstrate comprehension of the class reading.
- create interpretive presentations of literary characters.
- apply previous knowledge of persuasive devices to a writing piece and a presentation.
- articulate persuasive arguments about literature.
- compose an essay using a persuasive style.
- find, interpret, and manipulate textual evidence to support one side of an argument.
- work effectively with other students.
- demonstrate effective oral presentation skills.
- analyze the quality of information used to support an argument.
- critically assess their own work.
Session One: Introducing the Project
- Ask students to share what they know about courts, trials, and roles of the people involved with the class. Take notes as needed.
- Invite the students to share examples of trials-in the media, books, movies, and so forth.
- Ask the students to identify the similarities and differences between the trials presented in these different media.
- Explain the mock trial activity to the class: Students will participate in a trial, inspired by situations in a piece of literature they have read recently. In addition, they will write a persuasive piece that documents the support for the arguments presented in the trial.
- Using computers with Internet access, invite the students to explore sites where they can learn more about terms and routines related to trials using the online Exploring the Judicial System through a Literary Mock Trial.
- Explain the roles of each member involved in the trial.
Session Two: Brainstorming for the Project and Selecting Roles
- When students have experience with the legal vocabulary and related information as well as roles in trials, invite them to brainstorm characters and situations from their current piece of literature that would warrant a trial. If desired, create an example to begin the discussion.
- As students brainstorm, record their ideas, creating a poster for each character who could be involved with a trial. Record the character's name as the main heading over a two-column chart-one for crimes, the other for motivation. Hang the charts around the room so the groups can use their during later sessions.
- Divide the class into small groups of four to five students each.
- Continue gathering information on the character criminals and their crimes by having students move through the room, from poster to poster, providing information. Students can list potential crimes-anything the character did that caused problems in the reading. For example, in The Tempest, Prospero from could be tried for keeping Ariel and Caliban as slaves and entrapping his enemies. In The Giver, Jonas could be tried for questioning the values of his society. Students can also list any conflict caused or created by the selected characters that could be considered a crime.
- After every group has had a chance to list potential "crimes", the groups move around the room again to fill in the motivation the character may have had to commit the "crimes". Make sure that the motivations are recorded next to the appropriate character so it is clear which motivation is related to which crime. In The Tempest, for instance, Prospero's motivation for enslaving Caliban could be that Caliban's savageness was dangerous to Prospero and Miranda. In The Giver, Jonas questioned his society because it abandoned (killed) imperfect citizens.
- After the students have filled out the character charts, ask them to examine all of the information that has been compiled.
- When students have completed work on the charts, invite each group to choose a character to try at the mock trial.
- After the characters have been selected, remind students of the roles to pursue and ask each group member to choose a role for the trial. Alternatively, you can assign individual characters along with a role to each group by distributing cards with the character's name and either "defend" or "prosecute" randomly.
- Give students who choose to be lawyers either the Prosecution Attorney's Duties or Defense Attorney's Duties handout so that they have a better idea of their specific expectations. You can also share with the students suggestions about composing and asking questions.
- Since all students will act as a jury, discuss the Jury Verdict Form to the students.
Session Three: Roles, Rules and Research
- Once characters and roles have been selected or assigned, discuss the expectations and requirements of the trial and the accompanying persuasive writing piece.
- Go over the Paper Rubric, highlighting the details that need to be included in the papers and how they and will be assessed.
- Examine the Trial Rubric, which will be used to evaluate students' participation in the trial.
- As the students review the rubrics, invite them to define the key terms which are typical to most rubrics-such as "clear", "evident", "maintain", and "interprets."
- When the students understand what the targets are from the rubrics, pass out the model defense handout.
- Use the model defense handout to show students see how to build a case.
- Walk students through the process, using a think-aloud process that demonstrates for students why you chose the main arguments, how you found information in the text, and how you put it together in a summary of the case.
- After students understand the model defense handout and the process involved, invite them to assess the model defense using the Paper Rubric.
- Invite the students to share their final score and the reasons that they chose that score. Students can also explain how the score could be improved.
- When the students feel comfortable with the expectations for the project, invite them to begin their research and outline their cases for the mock trial.
- Hand out an agenda to the students so they know the timeframe for the mock trial.
Session Four to Six: Research and Rehearsal
- During these sessions, assist students as they compose their persuasive pieces and begin putting together their presentations for the mock trial.
- Demonstrate the Persuasion Map and explore how the tool can be used to outline and structure arguments for the trial. Make sure that the students print out a hard copy at the end of each session, as the data cannot be saved.
- Guide students as they decide which points to include, who will be presenting each point, and how to best deliver their portion.
- At the beginning of each session, review the Paper Rubric and Trial Rubric so students can ask any questions about the project that emerge as they work.
- Focus Session Six primarily on rehearsal. If students created a Persuasion Map, it would be useful to demonstrate how to use the printouts like note cards for the mock trial and presentation.
Session Seven: Present Cases
- Before presentations begin, review the Jury Verdict Form with the class, reminding students of the information they need to record during the trial.
- Students present their arguments, following the guidelines and agenda presented in previous sessions.
- At the end of the first day of presentations, collect the Jury Verdict Forms, and let the students know that the verdicts will be delivered the following day.
Session Eight: Evaluation and Reflection
- Complete any unfinished trials at the beginning of the session.
- When all of the trials have been presented, pass out and explain the Self-Evaluation Form.
- Allow students time to complete the form in class. Stress that thoughtful answers are more important than quick answers.
- Collect the Self-Evaluation Forms when they are completed.
- After everyone has finished their Self-Evaluation Forms, present the results of the verdicts to the students.
- Allow time for students to discuss the trials and verdicts. If needed, prompt with questions such as, "What verdict surprised you? Why?"
- As the discussion continues, further assess students' understanding of the plot elements and characterization, as revealed in their comments and observations.
- As a class, view an appropriate trial from TV, such as Law and Order, or a movies, such as Inherit the Wind or To Kill a Mockingbird. Use the rubric to assess the work of the people involved in the depicted trial.
- Use the online version of The Tempest to demonstrate how to use the Find command in an Internet browser to search the text for evidence for their argument. For instance, search for all instances of the word slave to identify quotations to support an argument about Prospero's crime of keeping Ariel as a slave.
- Get ideas for other mock trials from Jury Trials for the Classroom.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- As students discuss characters and situations from the text, listen for comments that indicate students are identifying specific evidence from the story that connects to their trial. The connections that they make between the details in the novel and the details they choose as their supporting reasons for their mock trial and persuaive writing piece will reveal their understanding and engagement with the novel.
- Monitor student interaction and progress during group work to assess social skills and assist any students having problems with the project.
- Use the Trial Rubric to assess group presentations.
- Use the Paper Rubric to assess the persuasive writing pieces.
- Use the Jury Verdict Forms and the corresponding discussions to listen for further connections to the texts in the mock trials.
- Respond to the content and quality of students’ thoughts in their Self-Evaluations on the project. Look for indications that the student provides supporting evidence for the mock trial, applying the lessons learned from the work with the Persuasion Map and persuasive writing pieces.
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